Interview: Security Fears on Both Sides Block Solution For Tibet

tibet-interview2-sept132016.jpg Tsering Topgyal (L) speaks with RFA Tibetan Service reporter Dorjee Damdul, Sept. 7, 2016.

Six years have now passed since the last talks on the status of Tibet were held between envoys of the Dalai Lama and Beijing, and the Dalai Lama’s “Middle Way” proposal for greater autonomy for Tibet under Chinese rule continues to be rejected by Chinese leaders. Here, in edited excerpts from Sept. 7 and Sept. 8 interviews with Dorjee Damdul and Palden Gyal of RFA’s Tibetan Service, Tsering Topgyal—an assistant professor of political science and international studies at the University of Birmingham in the U.K.—explains what may be getting in the way of a solution.

“Why has this conflict over Tibet been so intractable?”

“My take is that it has been difficult for the Chinese state and elites and for the Tibetan leadership, including His Holiness the Dalai Lama, to resolve this dispute partly because each side has different security concerns.”

“The Chinese state—the regime and the Communist Party at the top, along with local officials in the Tibetan regions—has different insecurities connected with the historical relations between China and Tibet, and with how Tibet came to be annexed by the People’s Republic of China.”

“These are also connected to China’s relations with other great powers like India and the U.S., and to China’s relationship with some of its neighbors. Tibet figures in many of these relationships.”

“There is a tendency in the scholarship on the Sino-Tibetan conflict to see the Chinese side as driven by security concerns, and this seems reasonable and rational. But when the same scholars look at the Tibetan side, there is a tendency to see this as driven by emotion or ethno-nationalism.”

“But on the Tibetan side, there are security concerns as well.”

“For example, we can talk about ecological security. Many Tibetans are worried about the condition of their environment. Tibetans also have economic insecurities--concerns over what Chinese migration is doing to Tibetans’ prospects for jobs and livelihood.”

“But Tibetans are most concerned over the security of their identity. Basically, this is about the survival of the Tibetan nation.”

“Each side says or does certain things to increase its security, but what this ends up doing is raising the insecurity on the other side . . . China tries to undermine the Tibetan sense of identity, at the same time trying to make the Tibetans feel more Chinese and identify more with the Chinese nation.”

“So the two sides get caught up, and they both end up being more insecure rather than more secure, as was their original intention.”

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